Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 6.39.14 PM.png

AMATEUR ASTRONOMER JIM WHITE, FROM TROUT LAKE GIVES A MONTHLY GUIDELINE ON VIEWING OUR SKY...

What’s in the Sky
May 2022

Welcome to May.  The big event in our May night sky will occur on the 15th, when we will have a full Lunar Eclipse.  Our bright planets remain mostly in the morning sky, and nights get shorter as we near the summer solstice.  But nights will be warmer, and May usually presents more clear skies than earlier in spring.  Get outside and take a look when skies are clear!

On May 15, our Moon will rise at about 8:30pm, in the southeast.  It will have a distinctly reddish color, much subdued compared to the normal full Moon.  It will already be fully eclipsed.  The Earth will be immediately between the Sun and the Moon, blocking light from reaching our natural satellite.  Some of the light passes through our atmosphere, is refracted, and bathes the Moon in a reddish glow.  Long wavelength light, on the red end of the spectrum, is scattered less by our atmosphere and thus mostly reddish light illuminates the Moon, much as we encounter reddish sunsets and sunrises here on Earth.  The Moon will remain fully eclipsed until about 10pm, and then will be in partial eclipse, slowly brightening as the Earth’s shadow creeps across the lunar surface.  The eclipse will end at about 11:30pm.

If you watch the partial eclipse state, after 10pm, you may notice that the Earth’s shadow is curved as it appears on the Moon’ surface.  You can see that in photos, such as the 2004 Lunar Eclipse pictures that accompany this article.  The Greek astronomer Aristarchus, who lived between 310 and 230 BC, observed this and concluded that the Earth is round, at a time when many felt that the Earth was flat.  He was also able to determine the relative sizes of the Earth and Moon, and that the Sun was much larger and farther away from us than the Moon.  

Our bright planets remain in the morning sky in May.  The one exception is Mercury, which will be visible low in the west after sunset.  Look for it just to the left of the bright star cluster Pleiades on May 1.

Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn will all be low in the southeastern morning sky.  On May 29, look for a conjunction, a close apparent approach, between Jupiter and Mars.  They will appear only about ½ degree apart in the sky.  That’s about the width of the Moon in our sky, pretty close together.   Look for them at 5am or a bit earlier, before the rising Sun lightens the sky too much.

In addition to the eclipse, it can be fun to follow the Moon as it marches across the sky, visiting different stars, constellations, and the planets.  On May 5, you’ll find the thin crescent Moon low in the west, just below the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux.  To the Moon’s right will be the bright star Capella, in the constellation Auriga.  On the 9th, the first quarter Moon will lie in the constellation Leo.  It will then pass through Virgo, will lie in Libra during the eclipse, Scorpius on the 17th, and in Sagittarius on the 18th and 19th, visible in early morning.  It will then join the line of bright planets in the morning sky.

Summer constellations are beginning to peek over the eastern horizon in May.  Look for Cygnus the Swan to be low in the east at 10pm.  To its right, find the bright star Vega, in the small constellation Lyra.  The Big Dipper, in the constellation Ursa Major, now lies high overhead.  Gemini and Auriga are now low in the west, and Orion, the prominent constellation in the winter sky, has pretty much disappeared from view, to return in fall.

 

On April 7, a celebration of the improved Goldendale Observatory was held, with Washington Governor Jay Inslee in attendance.  This summer will be a great time to visit the unique Washington State Park, located on Observatory Hill in Goldendale.  In addition, a volunteer support group has been formed, assisting the Observatory and other Washington State Parks in the Goldendale Vicinity.  If the group sounds of interest to you, check out the web page at 4gorgeparks.org

 

Enjoy May’s night skies!

STAGES OF A LUNAR ECLIPSE: BEFORE--TOTAL--ENDING

Screen Shot 2022-04-10 at 6.01.45 PM.png

What’s in the Sky
April 2022

April has arrived, with (somewhat) warmer temperatures and usually a few more clear skies.  Our days are definitely getting longer, and our nights shorter.  At the start of April, we’ll have about 12 hours and 49 minutes of daylight.  By the end of the month, that will stretch to about 14 hours and 19 minutes of daylight, a gain of an hour and 30 minutes during the month.  Of course, that means shorter nights for stargazing, but with more comfortable temperatures.

The bright planets remain in the morning sky.  And they are worth a look, especially at both the start of the month, and the end of the month.  On April 1, look for Venus, Saturn, and Mars very close to each other in the east-southeastern sky, before sunrise.  Venus will be easy to pick out, easily the brightest star-like object in the sky.  About 3 degrees to the right of Venus will be Saturn, and about another 3 degrees to the right of Saturn will be Mars.  All three will be brighter than nearby stars, so easy to pick out.  They will be about 10 degrees above the horizon at about 6am.  A good gauge of those distances is your outstretched arm.  Your closed fist covers about 10 degrees.  Your three middle fingers, held together, covers about 5 degrees.  6am or a bit later will be a good time to look.  They will grow higher in the sky, but the rising Sun will soon obliterate them from view (sunrise is about 6:45M).


By April 4 and 5, Saturn and Mars will grow very close together as we see them, called a conjunction.  They will only be about ½ degree apart, less than the width of your little finger at arm’s length.  As the month goes on, the apparent distances between them will grow larger, and Jupiter will “join” them, to the left of Venus.  By April 20, they should make a nice line in the morning sky, with Jupiter on the left, then Venus, then Mars, and finally Saturn.  The waning crescent Moon will join them, below the planets on April 25 and 26.


Another conjunction comes at the end of the month, when Jupiter and Venus join each other, again about ½ a degree apart.  Hopefully we will have clear skies for these events!

The Moon begins April just after its “new” stage, and will be full on the 16th.  April’s new Moon will occur on the last day of the month.  On April 4, look for the crescent Moon just below the star cluster Pleiades, low in the west after sunset.  On the 8th, the Moon will be just below the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux.  On the 9th, the Moon will be just to the left of those stars.  On the 11th and 12th, the Moon will be in the constellation Leo.   On Tax Day, the 15th, you’ll find the almost full Moon just below the bright star Spica, in the constellation Virgo.

More spring constellations are beginning to enter the evening sky in April.  Virgo and Corvus are above the eastern horizon by 9pm.  By mid-month, Hercules, Bootes, Virgo, and Corona Borealis, the northern crown, will be above the horizon.  See if you can locate them on a nice spring evening.

Enjoy April’s night skies!

Screen Shot 2022-04-07 at 9.00.34 AM.png

 

What’s in the Sky


March 2022

Welcome to March, when spring arrives, and we move back to daylight savings time.  Remember to set your clocks ahead (“spring ahead”) on Sunday, March 13.
The first day of Spring, the Vernal Equinox, comes on Sunday, March 20.  On that day, the Sun will be directly over the equator, and our day and night lengths will be about equal.  It will not be exactly equal though.  Our atmosphere bends (refracts) the sunlight somewhat, and we actually see the Sun for a few minutes after it has actually set in the evening.  The same occurs in the morning, we see the Sun shortly before it actually rises.  So, we get a few more minutes of sunshine.  I doubt many complain!

If you read my column last month, you’ll recall that we did not have a new Moon in February, a rarity that is possible because our shortest month has fewer days than a full lunar cycle (about 29.5 day).  And because of that, we’ll have two new Moons in March, one on the 2nd, and one on the 31st.  The second new Moon is called a Black Moon.  But it will be limited to the west coast of the continental US.  The precise time of new Moon on the 31st will be about 11:30pm.  For those who are east of us, that new Moon will occur early on April 1.  No fooling!

Jupiter, the last of the bright planets that has been in our evening sky, slips past the Sun in March and enters the morning sky, joining Venus, Mars, Saturn and Mercury.  Jupiter and Mercury will be difficult to see in March, as they will be very close to the Sun in our sky.  Venus, Mars, and Saturn will be close together later in the month.  Look for them to form a nice triangle on March 24, low in the southeast before sunrise.  Look at about 6:00 to 6:30am.  Locate bright Venus, and look for Mars to the right of Venus, and Saturn below Venus.

The constellations continue to change in the evening sky, as the Earth rotates the Sun.  By 9pm on March evenings, Perseus is disappearing in the west, and bright Orion is sinking low in the southwestern sky.  Ursa Major and the Big Dipper ride high overhead.  In the east, spring constellations Leo, Virgo, and Bootes are now above the horizon.

An interesting star to observe is Mizar, in the Big Dipper.  The Dipper will be located high up in the eastern sky in March, with the “handle” facing down toward the horizon.  There are three bright stars in the handle, below the “cup” of the dipper.  The closest star to the cup is Alioth, and the farthest from the cup, at the end of the handle, is Alkaid.  Mizar is between these two.  Use the picture to locate Mizar.

Give Mizar a close look.  Do you see another, dimmer star, very close to Mizar? That star is Alcor.  Spotting Alcor is a test of good eyesight!
Train a pair of binoculars on the duo, and you’ll clearly see the separation.  There definitely are two stars, where you casually see only one.

With even a small telescope, you’ll notice something else.  Mizar itself is two stars, a “binary” system of two stars orbiting each other.  A telescope allows you to “split” the two, whereas your naked eye sees one point of light.


But there is more! as the late-night TV ads often say.  While they cannot be seen with a telescope, spectroscopic telescopes have observed that both of the components of Mizar are also binaries.  And, Alcor has been found to be a binary as well.  So, when you look up at that star in the handle of the Big Dipper, you are actually seeing six stars!

Enjoy the night skies of March!

Screen Shot 2022-03-18 at 8.37.11 AM.png

What’s in the Sky
February 2022

 

Welcome to February, our shortest month.  Those with winter doldrums will be happy to know that during February, we gain almost an hour and a half of daylength during the month.  At the end of February, sunrise will come at about 6:45am, sunset at about 5:51pm.  


February 2 is Groundhog Day, when Punxsutawney Phil (yes, I had to look up the spelling) checks to see if his shadow is visible.  The event comes from German and Celtic festivals associated with early February, which is half way between the winter solstice and spring equinox.  It is called a “cross-quarter” day.  Other cross-quarter days are May Day, half way between the first of spring and summer, Lammas, in early August, and Halloween, half way between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice.

February will also be a “black moon” month for us.  That simply means there will be no new moon in February.  We’ll have a new moon on January 31, and one again on March 2.  This happens infrequently, about once every 19 years.

The bright planets are just about gone from the evening sky in February.  Jupiter is low in the southwest after sunset, but getting hard to see as it gets lower in the sky and has to compete with the light from the setting Sun.  Neptune and Uranus are in the evening sky, but difficult to see.  Uranus is technically visible to the naked eye, but not brighter than nearby stars.  Neptune is too dim to see with the naked eye.


Early morning is the time to see planets in February.  Venus will be quite bright, in the southeast before sunrise.  Look for Mercury to the left of Venus, lower in the sky but brighter than nearby stars.  Mars is below Venus as well, to the right of Venus early in the month, and below Venus later in the month.  At the end of February, Saturn will join the party, very low in the sky, to the left of Venus and Mercury.  On the 28th, a very faint waning crescent Moon will be just to the right of Saturn and Mercury.  Look at about 6:30am.  You’ll need a good view of the southeastern horizon, and binoculars, to pick out the Moon.  And, of course, clear skies!

Winter constellations continue to dominate the evening sky in February, with brilliant Orion leading the way.  Taurus the Bull, and Gemini the twins, are above and to the left (Gemini) and right (Taurus) of Orion.  Look straight up for Auriga, and its bright star Capella, which glides high overhead.

 

But spring constellations are beginning to show up in the east.  Leo the lion will be above the eastern horizon by 8pm early in the month, and high in the southeastern sky at the end of the month.  Ursa Major and its Big Dipper will be in the northeastern sky, with the dipper’s “handle” pointing down.  If you look straight up in February, you’ll see the bright star Capella, in the constellation Auriga.

 

When the clouds part, bundle up and enjoy February’s night skies!

Screen Shot 2022-02-06 at 7.13.45 AM.png
Screen Shot 2022-01-09 at 6.53.24 PM.png

ORION JANUARY 09, 2022

   this is my photo from out by C&H Shop

What’s in the Sky

 

Welcome to the New Year!  While our January weather is normally cold and cloudy, the winter night skies are a wonderful sight when the weather does clear.

If skies are clear, and you have a good view of the western horizon, look for 4 visible planets, low in the southwest after sunset on New Year’s Day.  Bright Venus will be very low in the sky, but should be nicely visible.  Just to the left of Venus, little Mercury should be also visible.  Above and to the left of Mercury, Saturn will be visible, about as bright as Mercury.  And farther still to the left, higher in the southwest sky, Jupiter shines bright.  Saturn and Mercury will not be as bright as the other two, but will be brighter than nearby stars.  Step away from the football games for a few minutes and check them out!

Venus will be visible in the evening sky for only a few days in January.  After about the 10th, you can see Venus low in the eastern sky before sunrise.  The “evening star” becomes the “morning star” in our skies.  This occurs because Venus lies between Earth and the Sun.  From our perspective, when Venus is on one side of the Sun, we see it after sunset, as will be the case on January 1.  On about January 5, Venus will pass roughly between the Earth and the Sun, after which we will see it on the “other side” of the Sun, visible in the morning sky.  After about the middle of the month, you can find Venus in the southeastern sky before sunrise.  Venus will return to our evening sky next fall.

Like Venus, little Mercury is at times visible in the evening after sunset, and sometimes in the morning sky before sunrise.  It is harder to observe, because it never strays very far from the Sun in our sky.  A good time to look for it is in early January, when it will be at its maximum height above the horizon in the evening.  On January 12, look for Mercury to be very close to Saturn, with the two planets being only about 3 degrees apart in our sky.  Saturn will be slightly higher in the sky, and to the left of Mercury.

You may be interested to know that Earth will make its closest approach to the Sun in early January.  Our orbit is not a perfect circle, rather a bit elliptical.  On January 3 we’ll be at “perihelion”, and “only” about 91.4 million miles from the Sun.  That’s a couple of million miles closer than our average distance of about 93 million miles.  Obviously though, the shorter distance is not enough to make much of an impact on our temperature!

January’s new Moon comes right after New Year, on the 2nd of the month. Full Moon, sometimes called the Wolf Moon, comes on the 17th of the month.  On January 5, the thin crescent Moon will lie just below Jupiter in the evening sky, which should present a nice sight.  The waxing gibbous Moon will lie right below the star cluster Pleiades on January 12.

When skies clear, be sure to check out the brilliant display of bright stars in the January southern evening sky.  Looking south and overhead in January, you’ll find 9 of the brightest 25 stars in our sky, including Sirius, (the brightest, #1), Capella (6), Rigel (7), Procyon (8), Betelgeuse (10), Aldebaran (14), Pollux (17), Castor (24) and Bellatrix (26).  See if you can identify them all!

JANUARY 2022

Screen Shot 2022-01-10 at 10.17.05 AM.png

What’s in the Sky

December 2021

We’ve come to the last month of the year, with the winter solstice, Christmas, snowy weather, and dark nights.  Alas, in our part of the world most of those dark nights are also cloudy.  Step outside when it is clear and enjoy the celestial sights!


Winter solstice comes on December 21, when the Sun will be at its lowest point in our sky, and we have our shortest day.  The Sun will only be about 20 degrees above the southern horizon at its highest.  We’ll have only about 8 hours and 38 minutes with the Sun above the horizon.  If that depresses you, remember days will start getting longer.  By New Year’s Day, we’ll have picked up about 5 minutes of daylength already.

There was much activity in November with people watching for a display of Aurora borealis, the Northern Lights.  We didn’t get much of a display, but hopefully will get more chances in the future.  Solar activity, which is responsible for phenomena like aurorae or sunspots, runs on a roughly 11-year cycle.  Activity was lowest in 2019, and should be at maximum between 2023 and 2026.  Aurorae occur when strong activity on our Sun releases ionized particles, a “Coronal Mass Ejection”.  If the ejection is toward Earth, those ionized particles reach us in a couple of days.  They are deflected by Earth’s magnetic field, but some make it into our atmosphere, especially where the magnetic field is weaker, near the poles.  The particles collide with atoms in our atmosphere, and the collisions emit the colors we see.  Red can result from collision with Oxygen atoms high in our atmosphere, and yellow-to-green light at lower elevations.  Nitrogen at lower elevations may also produce red color, often on the fringes of the aurora.  Cameras can capture more of the light, than our eyes, so often the pictures you see are more vivid than what you may have seen with your naked eye.


The farther north you are, the better chance you have of seeing the Aurora.  They are relatively rare at our latitude, visible when we have strong solar storms.


When to look?  There is no magic, alas.  A good website is the Space Weather Prediction Center’s Aurora forecast, at https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast.  If you are on Facebook, there now is an “aurora borealis Washington State” group that has sighting reports, and great information about the phenomenon.


The bright planets Venus, Jupiter and Saturn are still hanging in our evening sky.  Late in the month, they’ll be joined (right after sunset) but little Mercury, very low in the southwest.  On Christmas eve, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn will be lined up in the evening sky, at 5pm.  By New Year’s Eve, Mercury will be a bit higher in the sky, just to the left of bright Venus.


December’s full Moon will occur on the 18th.  New Moon will be on the 3rd of December.  The Moon will be just below Saturn on the 7th, and near Jupiter on the 8th and 9th.  The nearly-full Moon will be below the Pleiades star cluster on the 16th.  The red planet Mars is now low in our morning sky, low in the southeast at sunrise.
The Geminid meteor shower peaks on December 13-14.  The waxing gibbous Moon will “wash out” some of the meteors.  Best chance for viewing is probably in the early morning hours of December 14, while the sky is still dark before sunrise.  The Moon sets at about 4:30am, so about that time might be a good time to take a look.
We have a comet to look for in December as well.  Comet Leonard may be visible close to the horizon, on the morning of December 12 (low in the East), or in the evening of Dec. 14 and a few days later, very low in the west, near bright Venus.  Leonard may be visible to the naked eye, but most likely a pair of binoculars will be necessary.


Enjoy December’s skies, and Happy Holidays to all!

Screen Shot 2021-12-04 at 10.59.22 AM.png
Gradient

What’s in the Sky

November 2021

 

November is here, a month noted for rain (a good thing this year) colder weather, and a month not very cooperative when it comes to clear skies.  Then again, when it does clear, you don’t have to wait long to view dark skies!  Sunset comes early, at 5:51pm on Nov. 1, and 4:22pm at the end of the month.

Highlights in the night sky for November are the annual Leonid Meteor shower, and this year a partial lunar eclipse.  Uranus makes its closest approach to Earth on November 2, and both Jupiter and Saturn remain prominent in the southern evening sky.  Enjoy night skies when they do clear!

The Nov. 18-19 Lunar eclipse begins at about 10 p.m. on the evening of the 18th, and will be at its maximum at about 1 a.m. on the 19th.  The eclipse will be partial, meaning that not all of the lunar surface will be within the Earth’s shadow.  But it will be close, with over 90 percent of the Moon within the shadow.  The Moon should have the distinctive reddish cast that it gets under total eclipses.  

The Leonid meteor shower peaks on the early morning of November 17.  At that time, Earth passes through the orbital path of the comet Tempel-Tuttle, and some of the debris along the comet’s orbital path falls into our atmosphere.  The Moon will be pretty bright, and will wash out many of the meteors.  The Leonids have an interesting history, peaking every 33 years, when Earth passes through the most dense part of the debris field (the comet has a 33-year orbit around our Sun).  In 1833, people witnessed an enormous meteor storm, with an estimated 50,000 to 150,000 meteors per hour!

November’s new Moon falls on the 4th of the month.  Full Moon occurs on – you guessed it – the 19th, when the eclipse happens!  The Moon starts the month as a waning crescent in the morning sky, in the constellation Leo.  On the 7th, look for the waxing crescent Moon just to the right of bright Venus, low in the west after sunset.  On the 10th, the first-quarter Moon will be located right between Jupiter and Saturn, low in the southern sky.  On the 18th, the night the eclipse begins, find the Moon just to the left of the bright star cluster Pleiades.

The bright planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus all continue to be prominent in the evening sky.  By the end of the month, they will be in a line, low in the southwest after sunset.  Look early, as Venus sets by 7pm.  Jupiter and Saturn are growing fainter as they move away from us, but the gas giants still outshine the stars in that area of the sky.

Winter constellations are beginning to peek about the eastern horizon in November.  Look for Auriga, the charioteer, and its bright star Capella, low in the northeast.  To the right of Auriga, find the prominent star cluster Pleiades.  Check out the Pleiades with a pair of binoculars for an impressive view.  As I’ve mentioned before, in Japan the cluster is known as Subaru, and the emblem on the vehicle is indeed a representation of the star cluster.

Enjoy any opportunity to view the skies in November!

Screen Shot 2021-10-23 at 10.16.54 AM.png

What’s in the Sky

September 2021

 

With September, the end of summer arrives.  The autumnal equinox, when the Sun lies directly over the equator, comes on September 22 this year.  The length of our days and nights are about equal.


The most impressive objects in the evening sky for September continue to be Jupiter and Saturn, the solar system’s largest planets.  Even though both made their closest approach to us for 2021 last month, both are actually easier to view through a telescope in September.  Why is that?  Both are moving away from us, but are still much closer than their average distance from Earth.  And both will rise earlier, reaching their highest point in the sky, when they are due south, earlier in the evening.  When the planets are higher in the sky, the view of them is clearer, as we are looking through less of Earth’s atmosphere.  It is more convenient for most to view them at 10pm, rather than having to wait until midnight!  

Not to be outdone, brilliant Venus shines low in the west after sunset.  Early in the month, you may also spot Mercury, lower in the sky and to the right of Venus.  Mercury will require a view of the western horizon, and may be lost in the Sun’s glare.

A constellation that is now easily visible in the northeast is Cassiopeia.  Named for the mother of Andromeda in Greek mythology, the constellation has the distinct shape of a “W”.  You really need a good imagination to see Cassiopeia sitting in a chair, but the “W” easily stands out.  Cassiopeia is “circumpolar” at our latitude, which means it is always in our night sky.  In September, it will be in our northeastern sky.  In December, it will be in the north, high in the sky, with the “W” upside-down.  Next May it will be again due north, but very low in the sky, and the “W” will be right side-up.


The 5 brightest stars in Cassiopeia make up the “W”.  Schedar, the brightest, is a 4-star system, dominated by a large, orange-colored star with over 700 times the luminosity of the Sun.  As the brightest star in the constellation, Schedar is also called “Alpha Cassiopeiae”.  The others are Caph (Beta Cassiopeiae), Ruchbah (Delta Cassiopeiae), Gamma Cassiopeiae (this star has no Arabic or Latin name), and Segin (Epsilon Cassiopeiae).  Even though we see them “together” in our sky, their distances from us vary dramatically.  Caph is about 55 light-years distant, the nearest, and Gamma is about 10 times that distance, 550 light-years away.  They are definitely not neighbors to each other!

Our Moon will be new in early September, on the 6th of the month.  The full “harvest Moon” will follow on September 20.  On the 9th, find the thin crescent Moon low in the west, just above and to the right of bright Venus.  On the 12th, the nearly first-quarter Moon will lie just above the bright star Antares, low in the southwest.  On the 16th and 17th, the Moon will pass below Saturn and Jupiter in the southern sky.  In the early morning hours of the 26th, you can find the now waning Moon just below the Pleiades star cluster.  The Moon will end the month in the morning sky, just below the twin stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini.

Enjoy September’s night skies!

Screen Shot 2021-09-02 at 7.53.20 AM.png

THIS IS A PHOTO OF CASSIOPEIA IN THE TROUT LAKE SKY

TAKEN BY JIM WHITE

Screen Shot 2021-09-02 at 7.53.04 AM.png

I added this extra bit of information from  Greek Mythology

STAR TALES OF CASSIOPEIA

What’s in the Sky

August 2021

Welcome to August, our last full month of summer.  You may notice the advancement of the seasons as the day length shortens during August.  By the end of the month, sunrise will be at almost 6:30am, and sunset will come before 8pm, at about 7:45.  The lengthening nights mean you can see the stars earlier in the evening, and hopefully the longer nights will lessen our daytime temperatures a bit!

The solar system’s two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, make their closest approach to us in August this year.  Saturn will be in “opposition” on August 2, with Jupiter following on August 19.  “Opposition” means the planet will be on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun.  At opposition, the planet will be up all night, will rise at about sunset, and will be at its highest point in our sky at about midnight.

To find Jupiter and Saturn in August, look low in the southeast after sunset (look a bit later early in the month).  Jupiter will be the brightest object in that area of the sky.  Saturn will be to the right and slightly higher in the sky than Jupiter.  Saturn will not be as bright as Jupiter, but will be brighter than just about every star.  Both will be well above the horizon by 9pm.  The Moon can provide a guide as well.  On August 10, the thin crescent Moon will lie just to the right of Jupiter.  On the 20th, the almost-full Moon will lie right below Saturn, and on the 21st it will be below Jupiter.

Jupiter and Saturn will not be the brightest planet in our August sky, however.  Our neighbor Venus, will shine even brighter, visible after sunset low in the west.  Venus will remain quite bright as the month progresses, and drop a bit lower in the sky during the month.

 

Our Moon begins August as a waning crescent visible in the morning, high in the southeast.  New Moon comes on August 8.  As mentioned above, the Moon will be near Jupiter on the 10th.  On the 15th, the first-quarter Moon will be just to the right of the bright star Antares, low in the south.  Antares is the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius, and is a red supergiant star.  See if you can detect its reddish color.  Full Moon follows on August 22.

August 11th, 12th and 13th mark the peak of the Perseids meteor shower, always a popular August stargazing event.  The Moon will be only a thin crescent on those dates, so the night sky should be nice and dark for viewing.  The best time to view the shower is in early morning hours, but you can see meteors earlier, after 10pm as well.

 

August’s night skies come earlier, and provide a great time to view the summer Milky Way.  That beautiful night sky feature is simply the collective light from billions of stars in our galaxy.  To best view it, find an area with nice dark skies.  Allow yourself some time to let your eyes adapt to darkness, and look to the south.  The Milky Way is brightest there – you are looking toward the center of the galaxy.  The Milky Way will span the entire sky though, up through Cygnus the Swan, high overhead, and Cassiopeia and Perseus in the northeast.  Look at the Milky Way with a telescope or binoculars, and you will see many more stars.  You may notice that some areas seem quite dark, with areas of Milky Way on either side of them.  Those area areas where interstellar dust blocks our view of the stars beyond them.  

An outstanding location for viewing the night sky is the Goldendale Observatory State Park, in Goldendale.  You have opportunities to view planets, stars, star clusters and galaxies through the facility’s telescopes, and learn about the heavens.  The facility has been almost completely rebuilt, and is slowly reopening after the COVID closure.  Check out the web page for details at https://www.goldendaleobservatory.com/.  Currently, you can visit on weekends, in the afternoon or evening.  A reservation (online, see the Observatory web page) is required, as capacity is still being limited. 

Screen Shot 2021-08-03 at 3.04.40 PM.png

Whats in the Sky
July 2021

 

July, our first full month of summer is here.  Days are beginning to grow shorter, and nights longer, as the seasons progress.  At the start of July, daylength will be quite long, with sunset coming at about 9pm and sunrise at about 5:20am.  By the end of the month, the Sun will set about 25 minutes earlier at 8:35pm, and sunrise will be about 27 minutes later at about 5:47am.  July (and August) can be excellent months for stargazing, as nights start to come earlier, but weather is pleasant for viewing the night sky.

An interesting sight to put on your calendar occurs on July 12.  After sunset, look low in the west, and look for bright Venus.  The bright planet will be hard to miss, about 15 degrees above the horizon.  If you have a pair of binoculars, see if you can spot Mars, located right next to Venus, below and to the right of the bright planet, at about the 7 o’clock position from Venus.  Now look above and to the left of Venus, and find the faint crescent Moon, about the width of your extended fist from Venus.

 

The solar system’s largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, are moving back into the evening sky in July.  They will be quite low at the start of the month, but by the end of July will be above the horizon by 10pm.  Look for them low in the east after sunset.  Early in July they will not rise until 11:30pm or a bit later.

 

Our Moon will begin the month in the morning sky.  On July 5, if you are up early, you may see a beautiful crescent Moon just to the right of the Pleiades star cluster.  The Moon will be above the bright star Spica on the 16th, and above Antares on the 19th.  The Moon will be to the right of Saturn on the 23rd, and below Jupiter on the 26th.

Some of you may have been able to visit the Goldendale Observatory in May and June, when the State Park held limited attendance, afternoon solar viewing.  I was able to attend in early June.  I enjoyed a presentation about our Sun, and a view of our star through the facilities’ 6-inch refractor.  In July, evening presentations (Saturday and Sunday only, 9pm to midnight) will also be started.  As with the afternoon solar presentations, attendance is limited, and you must reserve a spot in advance, on the Observatory’s web page.  Visit (www.goldendaleobservatory.com) for the latest.

If you are interested in supporting the Observatory or one of the other Goldendale-area State Parks (Maryhill, Brooks Memorial, Columbia Hills), a group is being formed to provide volunteer assistance.  If this piques your interest, let me know (jwhite.stargazer@gmail.com) and I can provide you with information.

An interesting bright star in the July sky is Altair, the southernmost star of the “summer triangle” and the brightest star in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle.  Look for Altair below the bright star Vega, and below the constellation Cygnus, also known as the northern cross.  You can use the Milky Way to find Altair – Vega and Cygnus will be on one side of the Milky Way, with Altair on the other.  

Altair is the 12th brightest star in our sky, and one of the closest to our solar system, being only about 16.8 light-years distant.  Altair is about twice the diameter and 1.7 times the mass of our Sun.  Amazingly, the star rotates in about 10 hours, making it bulge at its equator, and thus has an oblate shape, bulging out at its equator.  Check out the “eye” of the Eagle!

Enjoy July’s night skies!

Screen Shot 2021-07-12 at 9.34.47 AM.png

Whats in the Sky
June 2021

Here comes summer!  The summer solstice comes on June 20 this year, when the Sun is as far north as it gets.  Nights will be warmer, but you need to stay up later to see the stars!  Sunset does not come until around 9pm in June, and skies are not completely dark until much later, about 11:45pm on June 20.  Don’t let that stop you though, stars and constellations are visible much earlier.

That time after sunset, when the sky is still partly illuminated, is called twilight.  The corresponding term for the morning is dawn.  Astronomers divide twilight into 3 periods.  The first is called “civil twilight”, when the Sun has set, but is less than 6 degrees below the horizon.  Civil twilight ends at about 9:40pm in June.  During civil twilight, there is enough natural sunlight that artificial light is not needed for outdoor activities, and you can only view the brightest objects in the sky, like the bright planets and bright stars (and the Moon, of course).  Nautical twilight comes next, when the Sun is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon.  In June, nautical twilight will end at about 10:30pm.  Artificial light is usually needed for outdoor activities, and most stars can be seen with the naked eye.  The term comes from times when sailors used the stars to navigate.  The final stage of twilight is called astronomical twilight, when the Sun is between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon.  Most objects can be viewed with a telescope during astronomical twilight, although a small amount of sunlight still scattered in the sky may make faint objects difficult to see.  Astronomical twilight ends at around 11:45pm in June.  In the morning, the three twilight zones are reversed. Astronomical dawn comes at about 2:30am, nautical dawn at about 3:45am, and civil dawn starts at about 4:30am.

Venus and Mars continue to be the visible planets in the evening sky.  Last October, when Mars was at opposition, the red planet was about 39 million miles from Earth.  At the start of June, Mars will be about 209 million miles away, and will be some 225 million miles from us at the end of June.  It is easy to see why the Mars Rover Perseverance was launched in the fall of 2020!  Venus is much closer at about 150 million miles in June.  Venus is easy to spot after sunset, as the bright “evening star”, low in the west.

If you are up before sunrise, you can see Saturn and Jupiter as bright “stars” low in the southern sky.  On June 1, the waning gibbous Moon will lie right below Jupiter.  On June 27, the Moon will be just below Saturn, and will be below Jupiter again on the 28th.  June’s new Moon will come on June 10, with full Moon following on the 24th.

On June 10, there will be an annular eclipse of the Sun.  Alas, it will not be visible in our area, occurring from about 2:30am to 4:00am, when the Sun is below the horizon.  “Annular” eclipses occur when the Moon is slightly farther away from Earth, and the apparent size of the Moon is a bit smaller than the Sun.  The Sun appears as a bright ring around the dark disk of the Moon.  Another term for a ring is an annulus, hence the name.  It does not mean it occurs annually!

Last month I mentioned the bright star Vega, the 5th brightest star in our sky.  I also briefly mentioned nearby Arcturus, which comes in at #4, slightly brighter than Vega.  You can locate Arcturus by following the “arc” of the Big Dipper’s handle to a bright star, Arcturus.  The star was an interesting focus for the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago.  A previous World’s Fair in Chicago had occurred in 1893, 40 years before.  Arcturus was about 40 light-years from Earth, so light arriving in 1933 would have left the star in about 1893.  Telescopes were used to focus the star’s light on photovoltaic cells, and the resulting electric current was used to flip a switch, turning on the lights for the Fair.  We’ve since refined the distance to Arcturus to be about 37 light-years, but it was a unique use of technology for the time.

Enjoy June’s skies!

Screen Shot 2021-05-25 at 7.49.52 AM.png